a year of tasks, measured in beer-inches

One of the ways we communicate about projects on the farm is that there is a kanban (information board) in the kitchen, with sticky notes on it, that go from Projects to Tasks. When a task gets done, you move it to the Done section, and we celebrate that at house meeting each week, and then put the done notes in a jar. At the end of the yera, we take the whole jar worth of notes to the retreat. Here are the results from the last two years, measured against a standard reatreat-food item. ;)



it looks like we got more things done in 2017– or anyway, were better about keeping track of thte things we got done!

2018 Calendar — updated!

We have so many great events happening this year! The first big one is brand new to us — the Sunflower River Music Festival!

Rev is now running a quarterly music festival, through Mariposa Music. It will have local bands, vendors, live artists, and we will offer farm tours to VIP ticket holders. The first one is April 7th — we’d love to see you there! This event will also run in June, August, and October.

We’ll be doing more Wall Art Days this summer, in June and September. The theme is plants & animals, and Kat can teach you how to engage with the cement bas-relief process if you’re interested in getting involved but unfamiliar with the material.

We’ve also added a couple of brand new workshop offerings to our calendar — July 14th and October 20th we will offer a Chicken Processing workshop. This will be a one-morning workshop that will teach anyone interested how to process chicken, from the live bird to ready-for-the-table. We’ll also offer a workshop on our Retreat Processes in August. We often hear from people that we are exceptionally well organized, and good at doing what we do, and we agree — so we’re offering this class to anybody interested in picking up some of the planning, management or organizational tools that we use, so you can use them in your own home or community organization. To keep informed of details as they arise, watch this space, or sign up for our Events mailing list.

These are all in addition to our usual monthly work parties!

Spring cleaning, continued

Come join Sunflower River for a day in the sunshine! We’ll be tackling a variety of spring cleaning projects — getting the land ready for the Ostara festival (which is on the 17th), cleaning the brooders for baby birds, and tidying up all the ritual grounds. If enough people come, we’ll also take apart a no-longer-needed shed in the barnyard.

A hearty vegetarian lunch will appear around 2pm, and we will send all volunteers home with farm goods! We hope to see you there!

Spring Cleaning

We spent last weekend up to our eyebrows in spring cleaning projects — clearing leaves out of both the acequias, and tilling the garden for an early spring planting!

Our north neighbor Manuel asked us to pitch in on clearing mud and leaves from the concrete acequia this year, so two of us spent the day on that.

Before: waist-deep leaves, with a 2-3″ layer of dry mud caked on the bottom.


That felt good at the end of the day. Though it also felt sore.

Another crew finished clearing leaves from the mud ditch and lowering it a bit.

Meanwhile, a third team tackled the dry, drought-hardened garden soil, which had to be turned in chunks, and then broken up.

We hope to finish that project this week, as well as adding compost to all the rows, setting up the trellising and irrigation for spring, and getting the spring planting done before we leave for our Annual Retreat next weekend. Anybody want to come help out on Friday? Jenny and I will be tackling it again all day! We’d love a hand.

Field Fencing

When we first moved to Sunflower River, in 2007, one of the plans was to get goats some day. It’s still a plan.

Meanwhile, we raised meat chickens in chicken tractors on our pasture field for several years, until one year a dog from next door broke into the tractors and killed or scattered all of the chickens, all in one fatal afternoon.

Since then, we have not attempted to raise chickens in the field, as we cannot risk having to absorb that kind of emotional or financial loss more than once. Finally we have been able to make time to take the next step towards raising chickens out there again: we fenced the field!

First we went around the area we want to fence with string, and marked the line. Then we spent a long day in the winter sunshine pounding T-posts in along the line, and setting hefty wooden posts at the corners and for the gates (two truck-wide gates east and west, so we can get a tractor or a truck in and across if we need to, and one wheelbarrow-wide pedestrian gate for daily access for animal care). Then, a couple weeks later, we came back and used a come-along to string up the wire fencing.

In some areas, we needed to move the field’s irrigation berm, so that it would align with the fence. We fenced on top of the berm on three sides, to increase the height of the fence. We will still need to go along and add a strip of chicken wire to the bottom all around the field, to prevent the fence from being dug under by that dog, or other predators such as skunks and raccoons — a project we hope to ask some of our upcoming crop of spring interns to handle next month.

you can see the recently moved berm

Rev has started to hang the gates, and we will be fixing up the chicken tractors and raising meat birds out there again this year!

We’re also tentatively planning on creating a workshop/class around processing meat chickens, so keep your eyes out for that post if you’re interested!

P.S.: We also found a very small bird nest in the scrub brush at the side of the field.

Acequia & Garden work party

Sunflower River is getting ready for Springtime! And we’d love your help! On Saturday, February 10th, we’ll be tilling the garden, mixing in compost, and clearing out the acequias that bring the water of life to our fields. This is “many hands make light work” — lots of raking and moving leaves, especially from the north-south acequia, as well as moving compost and shovelling in the garden, and pulling weeds and shovelling dirt from the west-east acequia.

Come play in the warm winter sunshine in fabulous company! Bring work gloves if you have them; otherwise we have some you can use. We’ll get started about 10 a.m., and work until sunset or we’re done, whichever comes first.

A hearty lunch will appear around 2pm. All volunteers will be gifted with farm goods, as well as our eternal gratitude!

We hope to see you there!

sticks, redux.

We conquered the stick pile!

First we rented a big landscape chipper. Then we had to get it back to the stick pile. We almost didn’t make it past that part. Plan A had us driving the chipper up the neighbor’s road, and somehow getting this 1800 lb piece of machinery (on wheels) over the ditch. We probably could have done it, with Alan’s bridge plan and enough help, but the timing was really refusing to align, and it became celar that this plan would not manifest. Plan B was to park it in the main ritual ground, which is accessible by truck, and bring the sticks to it. This plan had a major fail-point — bringing that mountain of sticks up would be days and days of work all by itself, not to mention chipping them. It would have been almost certainly unattainable.

Then the day I brought the chipper home, Rev came up with a plan for how to navigate driving through the middle of the property, in spite of lattices, a shade structure, a giant root cellar hole, berming and paths that were not there the last time we did this, in 2008-09. So we got the chipper back to the site, fired it up, and dove into the work! We had 12 hours of run-time on the chipper under our rental contract, and we aimed to use every minute of it to best advantage. We also had help, both that day and the next, and our stalwart crew of volunteers, some of whom had so much fun on the first day that they came back on the second, made our success possible! This was truly a team effort.

here’s our starting condition:

and the team working:

end of the first day

the second day was the official work party day. We all got up with the sun and bundled up, and had the chipper running and teams hauling sticks around by 8 a.m.

That was one long day of noisy machinery, wrestling sticks out of brush piles and into bunches of the right size for the chipper, hauling them over, stuffing branches and sticks and whole small trees into the chipper, getting stuff thrown at us by the chipper, bringing up sunflower stalks from the person-height pile by the compost, wrestling more piles of sticks out of various corners of the property (spoiler: no, we didn’t get them all, but we eliminated more than one gnarly sub-pile completely, and we made really big dents in at least two others). At the beginning, and at various points, someone would grab a wheelbarrow full of mulch and trundle it up to the main ritual ground and bring it back to stick under the outflow chute again, but somewhere alon gthe line we decided to just save that problem for later (haha, this is totally not a perennial pattern for us, of course not…).

By the end of the process, we were dumping barrows full of small stick material, which, as time has shown, does not effectively compost in this climate in less than a geologic era, into the chipper.

and by the time we ran out of time on the chipper, and the sun was beginning to set, we had genuinely succeeded.

As you can see, there are still some sticks available. Since this photo was taken, two truckloads of these larger stumps and logs have found their way to other homes, some to be firewood, some to become a barrel course for our friends at Enchanted Equine Adventures. A couple of friends and several MFA students from the University are coming down in the next few weeks, to pick through the remaining piles and pull out the interesting art logs and stumps that they can make things out of. If you’d like to come down and get some, too, just message me! (email or text is better than leaving a comment here, but that’s an option, too). I’m feeling pretty confident that by planting time, the whole field will be free of large sticks!


Sunflower River is going to tackle our epic stick pile this weekend.   And we could really use a hand! We’ve got ourselves an industrial chipper for the weekend, but there’s no way to drive, well, *anything* back to where the sticks are.  So we’re going to park the chipper in the main ritual ground, which needs the mulch anyway, and haul all the sticks up from the wayback to chip them.

And wow is that a “many hands make light work” kind of task.  Our stick-volume is epic.  It’s nearly a decade worth of brush and tree prunings and such, all piled up into one vast fire hazard.  Which we aim to not just mitigate, but if possible, eliminate!

So… got some time this weekend?  Want to come help Sunflower River with an important project?  We’ll be moving sticks Saturday from noon till sundown, and then moving sticks and using the chipper all day on Sunday, 8 a.m. till sundown.  We will feed all volunteers, and send you home with awesome farm food!  And we sure could use the help — and the pleasure of your company!

Pirate Fort Refresh

Another project we’ve been working on this autumn is the Pirate Fort. Jenny has had plans for further developing it, including a treehouse and zip line, but we’ve had a hard time prioritizing the work over other projects. This fall we had a wonderful intern family staying with us, including two kids. Nick, the kids’ dad, is a skilled carpenter, and was interested in tackling the Pirate Fort project. So a lot of things happened in a short period of time!

Nick added a window with shutters, and a ship’s wheel to the main deck of the fort. He and Rev also designed and installed a lid for the sandbox, to keep sand in and dogs, cats, etc out. They came up with a lightweight lid that the kids and lift and latch by themselves, without needing and adult to do it for them.

farm kids are very familiar with that type of latch from a young age.

The next major improvement will be the treehouse portion, which requires us to set some posts, and abbreviate some elm trees. The posts are set:

and the next stage will include cutting down some of those pesky elms, and then building the main part of the tree house. after that, one of the remaining elms becomes one end of the new zip line! we’ll post about that when we get that far… which may take a minute.

North Path Project

Our property has a path, which we created intentionally, that runs around its perimeter, so that we can “walk the loop” as a method of getting places, or as a form of leisure, without disrupting the ecology of the interior parts of the land, particularly out back where it is more wild and therefore also more sensitive. The loop runs from behind each of the two houses, up the long north and south sides of the property, and connects in ashort stretch on the western edge.

Unfortuantely, our North Path has a problem. A couple of problems. The acequia (irrigation ditch) also runs along the north edge of the property. In some areas, the path is up on the edge of the ditch, where it stays nice and dry, but in other areas, the edge was filled with thickets of wild brush, which we let grow to provide habitat for little birds and other wild creatures — we had a nesting pair of roadrunners in there one year. In those areas, the path dives into the property a bit, to circumvent the shrubbery, and this means that whenever we irrigate, the first thing to flood is the path. Which renders it quite un-path-like.

In the last couple years, that thicket has died, creating a fire-hazard. So we decided to remove the thicket and move the path up onto the ditchbank for the entire length of the north edge. No small feat!

The day began like this:

Alan and Jenny taking apart the thicket by hand. This involved six people, a couple pruning shears, and two pruning saws, over the course of the day.

We sawed and yanked and broke pieces of wood out until we had a massive pile of sticks, and then people stuffed these into wheelbarrows and took them back to the Stick Pile, which is a problem we’re hoping to address next month.

Several hours of such work resulted in this:

our wwoofer Becky poses for the camera while Jenny continues thicket-wrangling


we did a great deal of pruning live elms, as part of making it possible for a person to walk down the new path, as well.

and after all that, towards the end of the day, we were able to move west along the path to the next blocked area — a thicket of Johnson grass. after a day of battling intertwined dead trees and shrubs, it was positively satisfying to stomp on the grass and create a path in mere minutes.

at the end of the day, this view:

had transformed into this!

complete with bonus dog.

this week our formiddable team of amazing interns through wwoof are finishing up the work by bringing many, many, wheelbarrows of clay back onto the new path, raising and levelling it so that it will be nice to walk on, and remain above the floodplain when we resume irrigating next spring.